TIFF Cinematheque’s summer programming is coming to a close in the next couple of weeks. One of the series they’ve curated this season is Second Coming: Cinema’s Greatest Sequels. The series highlights a number of films and their arguably better sequels — Sam Raimi‘s The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 screened earlier this month, as did Akira Kurosawa‘s samurai classics Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Last week, Tim Burton‘s Batman screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; Batman Returns — Burton’s 1992 follow-up — plays this Friday.
Burton’s Batman was an unqualified success on its initial release in 1989, defying critical and fan expectations. The film stars Michael Keaton as the titular DC Comics hero and Jack Nicholson as arch-nemesis The Joker. Burton’s film is a triumph of visuals and design. The Gotham City of Burton’s film draws heavily from Fritz Lang’s expressionistic Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir Blade Runner to craft a world that’s as memorable and imposing as Batman himself. Beyond Burton’s style, the film turns out career-defining performances from both Keaton and Nicholson.
Batman Returns finds Keaton again in the title role again protecting Gotham from a quirky rogues gallery, this time in the form of The Penguin (Danny DeVito), Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and suspicious businessman Max Schreck (a wildly-wigged Christopher Walken). If Burton’s sensibilities were a little restrained in Batman, for Returns they’re allowed to run wild. Returns builds on the world created in the 1989 original, but takes it to its logical extreme; Burton makes the most of the winter setting, covering the cold landscapes with eerily beautiful snow. The film owes as much to Todd Browning’s 1932 cult classic Freaks as it does to anything in the Batman mythology, as Returns focusses heavily on DeVito’s Penguin and his band of outsiders. Yet, it’s Pfeiffer’s leather-clad-pro-feminist-anti-heroine (“I am Catwoman, here me roar!”) that’s the film’s greatest asset. She brings a level of grounded believability to the character and makes the most out of her; her scenes with Keaton are simply terrific and make the film worthwhile.
Batman Returns screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Friday, August 29 at 9:30 p.m. Info and tickets are available here.